By “terrorist talk”, I mean absolutist talk like President George Bush’s “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Such talk does not allow any room for alternative viewpoints. Its speaker has seen the “truth,” therefore any other view must be false or evil.
What President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the other day falls under this category. With statements like, “You are not a Filipino if you refuse the help being offered by a friend. You are not a Filipino if you don’t want the peace and prosperity promised by Balikatan 02-1,” she, in effect, terrorizes the public into uncritically accepting the deployment of American troops to Mindanao. Anyone who criticizes this policy is now classifiable, in her own words, as “a protector of terrorists, a cohort of murderers, an Abu Sayyaf lover.”
Why President Macapagal is suddenly talking like this is puzzling. She is an intelligent person, and it does not require great intelligence to know that there may be Filipinos who are opposed to the American military engagement in Mindanao precisely because they care for their country and the welfare of the Filipino soldier. What they oppose is not the campaign to terminate the Abu Sayyaf, but the use of means that are contrary to law and are likely to produce greater injury to the nation.
What is at issue is not American assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which is covered by existing agreements. The Visiting Forces Agreement, whose validity the Supreme Court has upheld, permits the conduct of joint military exercises by American and Philippine troops. But the VFA cannot be invoked to justify involving American soldiers in the pursuit of local bandits like the Abu Sayyaf.
This much has been clarified by the constitutionalist, Fr. Joaquin Bernas. If the government wishes to engage US troops in the hunt for the Abu Sayyaf, it will have to do so under the auspices of the RPUS Mutual Defense Treaty. It will have to show that the Abu Sayyaf is part of the network that attacked the US on September 11, and then formally declare the existence of a state of war. Congress will have to authorize the president to exercise the powers necessary to carry out a declared national policy.
The President knows that we are not in a state of war. That is why she treats the presence of the American soldiers under the concept of a joint military exercise. But to bring American troops, ostensibly on a training mission, into a combat zone, where the probability of engagement with the enemy is very high, is to compromise the character of the training exercise.
I question the propriety and wisdom of doing so. I believe that the use of military forces to subdue a band of local criminals, normally a police job, is exceptional enough. But to invite foreign troops to participate in the hunt for local bandits, under the guise of training, is an anomaly that should not be allowed.
There is nothing in the world, however, that cannot be made acceptable by re-description. And so the official line is that the American soldiers are here to train. They will learn from the Filipinos the rudiments of fighting in tropical jungles, and in turn they will teach our soldiers the use of modern equipment in actual combat. For the Americans to be able to train Filipino soldiers effectively, they must carefully observe their needs and deficiencies. That means following and watching their “students” as they pursue a real live enemy.
This on-the-job-training ruse sounds to me even more sinister than the actual enlistment of US troops for combat. What is being depicted here is a “live” laboratory for counter-terrorist training. Instead of an imagined enemy, we have a real enemy. Instead of a simulated tropical jungle setting, we offer Basilan, a real inhabited province infested by a band of terrorists.
No, the government can’t be serious. It is the height of irresponsibility to offer Basilan as a laboratory for testing the latest American weaponry and techniques in counter-terrorism. It is like offering the painful dysfunctions of one’s own family as a case study for someone else’s psychiatric training on the promise that at the end of it, we may finally be rid of our neuroses.
There is a real situation in Mindanao that deserves all the attention and dedication we can summon. It is clearly more than a simple police or military problem. Many approaches have been tried, and many people, civilians and soldiers alike, have died in the process. The Abu Sayyaf may be the most galling manifestation of this problem, but it is still only one aspect of a very complex reality.
What Mindanao needs is an honest-to-goodness course of treatment based on a deep awareness of the roots of the conflicts that have troubled it for centuries, and a readiness on our part to admit responsibility for the mess in which the island finds itself. The solution cannot come from merchants of military gadgetry who seduce our allegiance by offering to leave “professional samples” behind. It cannot come from powerful nations that seek to make their needs and beliefs the norm for all humanity.
It must proceed from a sustained striving to solve our problems our own way. For, only a nation that has sincerely tested the limits of self-reliance can profit from the help of others.
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